Combat Paper: Art Therapy for Veterans

I’m a big fan of Kickstarter, and it’s a favorite thing of mine to browse (and back) the projects on their site. It’s such a great and supportive community and it’s amazing to see what big things people are dreaming up to share with the world.

One such project that I found and was blown away by: the Combat Paper Program (and not just because it centers on hobbies close to my heart — paper making, bookbinding and printing). Hosted by the Printmaking Center of New Jersey (in Branchburg, NJ), it’s a veterans-only program, through which vets can meet to make paper and art. The program focuses on ripping up old combat fatigues (their own or donated uniforms), turning them into pulp and making paper from them.

Through the Combat Paper program, veterans get the opportunity to meet and talk with other vets — those who have been where they have, who understand, who will listen without judgement. It’s group and art therapy, rolled into one.

A piece of art created by a Combat Paper participant. Image by Printmaking Center of New Jersey.

“Deconstructing a uniform while talking with other veterans breaks the cycle of isolation.  We deconstruct our past by cutting up our military uniforms, reclaim our experiences by making paper from these uniforms, and communicate our experiences by printing images and writing our words onto Combat Paper. The telling of our stories transforms us and gives us confidence to bridge the gap that keeps us separate and apart from the rest of American society.”
– Combat Paper’s site

This project is a powerful reminder of the healing power that art can have. To literally pull apart the fabric of their experiences being at war, to pull apart the sweat and tears and remake them into something of their own — it’s an act that is a hauntingly perfect analogy for this thing we call Art.

You can read more about Combat Paper in this news article from NJ.com. Though the Kickstarter fundraiser has ended, you still donate to Combat Paper by visiting that link, and scrolling to the bottom, then clicking on the donate button in the bottom right corner on the sidebar.

Do you use art as therapy? Writing as therapy? How much is your art a reflection of your own experiences?

A History of Book Loves

And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” -The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky,

Hey readers! I wrote a guest post for a lovely blog, Rivera Runs Through It. I met the author, Nicole, through a Twitter writing chat I participate in, #ufchat (Urban Fantasy). I followed her blog and found the posts about Book Loves, and took to chance to reminisce about my own first book love, Where the Red Fern Grows.

Please check out that post and leave a comment!

Here are some other book loves I’ve had:

  • Anything by Roald Dahl. I discovered his short stories recently, too, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. They are straightforward and pack a bit of punch.

  • The Harry Potter series. These books saw me through the most awkward decade of my life, known as adolescence. My devotion to these books was fiercely nerdy and often comical, with frequent visits to a favorite HP forum, roleplaying a Yule Ball with online friends, and a spat of Harry Potter fanfiction featuring Lily and James Potter (that probably still exists somewhere on the web).

  • The Song of the Lioness Quartet & The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce. I love her handling of heroines, who are tough, smart, and three-dimensional. Plus, fantasy and magic and stuff!

  • The Redwall Books. Because all I’d ever wanted when I was eleven was a series of books about talking rodents who live peacefully in an abbey, eating loads of delicious food and facing off against the regular insurgence of baddies.

  • The Lord of the Rings series was read aloud to our family on road trips, or for at-home entertainment. I loved The Hobbit‘s sheer adventurism, and  for some reason was fascinated by The Fellowship of the Ring‘s little-known Tom Bombadil (I even wrote a song about him to the tune of The Beatles’ “Hey Buffalo Bill”).

  • Anne Frank’s Diary – mostly because I felt very, very cool to share a birthday with her (JUNE 12, REPRESENT).

  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was heartbreaking, whimsical, and beautiful — and remains a favorite to this day.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of those rare books that everyone can agree is amazing.

  • Catcher in the Rye for perfectly capturing both the heartbreaking angst and apathetic humor of being young and disillusioned. Also Franny & Zooey and A Perfect Day for Bananafish.

  • Perks of Being a Wallflower. It had a haunting, intimate, on-the-inside-of-life feel. I still think about the quote that is highlighted in this post’s image: “And I swear, in that moment, we were infinite.” Doesn’t every young person feel that way at some point?

Have you had any book loves in your life that stand out?

Slow Writer

Ugh.

That is all I have to say to the months of March and April.

They’ve been a bit of a whirlwind. Chris (my husband) has been in and out of town, to SXSW and a conference in Las Vegas. It’s tough to be home without him.

I haven’t written a lot these past couple of months. I’ve made some progress, but it’s been meager and sporadic. I write at work as an SEO copywriter, and though that is very different from creative writing and other stuff I do on my own, it still sucks the brain power. After having stared at a screen, coming up with new words and typing all day, I often just don’t want to do more of the same at home.

I’ve let my enthusiasm for my current project flicker a bit.

The same fire and excitement just isn’t there. I love starting projects — ho yes, I do. It’s easy and fun and full of possibility like maybe this is the one that comes easy, that just happens, that forms perfectly into a beautiful masterpiece.

But, alas, writing isn’t like that. At least, not for a whole novel.

I’ve committed to finishing the story/book I’m writing on now before moving on. Even though I keep having ideas pop up of stories that want to be told.

I read a piece by Karen River about how to finish a novel that she posted yesterday. It is pretty much spot on for how I am feeling right now.

But I will keep going, I have to do it. I have to finish this novel, and prove to myself, prove to others that I can do this. I’m an author. I’m a novelist.

Originally my goal was to have a first draft finished by my birthday.

Now — I don’t know. I’d still like to try for June 12th, but it doesnt quite seem doable. We’re going on a trip to Poland in three weeks, so there are plans to make for that. Chris is graduating and looking for a job. Soon there could be packing and moving and all kinds of wild fun. There’s no real stretches of quiet or solitude from here to my birthday.

I’m a bit burnt out with everything at the moment, but I’m not ready to give up hope yet that I can still pull it off.

It will take a lot of dedication, to do it. But the alternative? Putting it aside? It just isn’t a choice I’m going to make,

The First Draft: Separating the Wheat from the Tares

I’m in the throes of my first draft, and while February was a pretty terrible month for my word count, March looks like it is shaping up a little better. It’s spring and lovely, and I’m feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle some serious word counts.

But like many writers, I have a hard time holding back the critic in my head. It’s so easy to get distracted and spend the precious little writing time I have not writing — but instead revising, reworking, reordering, re-everythinging.

I’ve discovered an analogy that is (at least for now) helping me make some sense of this messy business of writing.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

To paraphrase the parable (which can be found in Matthew 13:24-30), a man sows a field of wheat, then his enemy comes to the field and sows a bunch of weeds (tares) in it. The field sprouts and the man’s servants see there are weeds growing. So they ask if they should go pull out the tares and get rid of them, to which the man answers:

“Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Now, this parable was meant as a metaphor for allowing the sinners to live alongside the righteous, or something. But! BUT!

Doesn’t it also make a super great metaphor for writing a first draft?

At some point we sit down and start sowing our wordseeds, working through a plot, adding to the wordcount. As the story starts to sprout, we might recognize some problems, see some elements that seemed like wholesome wheaty stalks at the start but have only turned out to be obnoxious weedy things. And we’re tempted to stop the whole process to rip those weeds out of the draft, to get rid of everything that isn’t COMPLETELY PERFECT, DAGGIT.

But what if in that process we pull out good elements with it? When we’re in the middle of a first draft, we don’t have the perspective to be able to neatly excise what’s bad without also sacrificing much of what’s great.

It’s not until the draft is done, has sat for a while, and is ready for revision that we can have the clarity to recognize what is good and what is not. And even then, it takes the help of countless other eyes and minds to take the words we’ve harvested and turn them into a digestible, delightful, nourishing and complete story-book-loaf.

But the revising can’t happen until the writing is done.

Letting the words get on the paper is difficult for me, because revising is the stage I love. It’s the part where I start feeling like, “Hey, maybe there’s something here that’s not completely embarrassing. Maybe I’d actually let someone else read this.”

So I’m going to let my little wordseeds grow and flourish. Some of them will have to be thrown out or burned. But I have to hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be some weedy little bit that will flourish into something wonderful and surprising.

Because I love surprises.

Do you find it easier to draft or revise? How do you overcome the inner critic when drafting?

Try it: Visual Inspiration

Has February been a crazy month for you? Because it’s been a lot of insanity for me. Some of it good, some of it not so good. But most of it time-consuming. Which is my way of making excuses for the fact that I’ve probably only written about an eighth of my word-count goal for the month.

Pathetic much?

I’m need inspiration, peoples! So I’m trying something new: I’m going to conduct a “writerly experiment.” Yeah! EXCITEMENT!

The Experiment: using visuals!

For my first experiment/challenge, I’m going to utilize visual inspiration to get the creative juices (and the word count) flowing. I got the idea from Nova Ren Suma, author of Imaginary Girls and writing blog Distraction No. 99. She mentioned using a Pinterest board to make a collage of inspiring pictures, and after checking out her hauntingly creepy collection (from which I borrowed the above image; click on it for the source), I was excited to try it myself!

The Parameters:

Spend a good five minutes at the start of each writing session looking at visuals that represent an aspect of my work in progress (setting, character, theme, mood, etc.). This will take the form of a Pinterest board. Write for at least twenty minutes, trying to hold onto the feel of the pictures as I’m writing, referring back to them as needed.

Hypothesis (benefits+/setbacks- I anticipate):

  1. + More detailed/textured setting, characters, world-building.
  2. +Visuals may provide inspiration, kickstart writing sessions.
  3. +Holding onto visuals may help my brain stay focused, and I can refer to them to get back ontrack.
  4. -Visuals may present a distraction.
  5. -I’ll probably get sucked into a mindless Pinning session at least once. Probably more.

I’d love to hear if/how you use visuals in your writing. Have you tried something similar before?